Today, was International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Today, the US President, Donald Trump, signed a temporary ban on the entry to the United States for Muslims from 7 countries, pronounced a 120 day moratorium on admissions to the US for refugees and suspended admission for refugees from Syria indefinitely as just reported by the New York Times and numerous other news outlets. That the President is signing this executive order restricting the entry of refugees and nationals from muslim countries on the same that he denounces the Nazi crimes (without mentioning the Jews), is hardly coincidental. It’s a provocation. It’s a tactic that may well succeed in diverting attention from the insult and injustice to Muslims and refugees as people worry about respecting history and pointing out the lessons it apparently failed to teach us.
Few genocides have been recognized with an international day of commemoration. When I asked my students in past semesters, why they are taking this class, many said they think it is important to know about the Holocaust and the Nazi crimes against the Jews of Europe because it is our “responsibility to know in order to prevent this from happening ever again.”
In response I explained that if that was our goal we could congratulate ourselves: Since 1945, we – the people of the world – have been very successful in preventing the Holocaust from occurring again. We have been decidedly less successful in preventing other genocides and crimes against humanity. Our record in preventing atrocities, persecution, systemic violence, everyday racism, injustice, and discrimination is even less impressive. Neither have we been able to do much about the wide-spread indifference in the face of the suffering that surrounds us. Knowledge about Nazism and the Holocaust does not inoculate us against injustice, hate and fear-mongering, discrimination, racism or the violence that too often goes along with either. To the contrary – if the charge is to prevent only the truly holocaustal then we find ourselves off the hook most of the time. We should be outraged and take a stance against discrimination and racism not merely because we fear they might turn into genocide. We should be outraged and take a stance because discrimination and racism cause injury, they sow division, they are unconstitutional, undemocratic, and unjust.
Less than a year ago I insisted that it should not require an invocation of the Holocaust or any other genocide for us to be able to recognize injustice. Today, I am stunned to see that even such an invocation no longer seems to have any power…